LACKSBURG, Va. - Tony Barbee didn't even want to talk to the media after Saturday's win.
"Hey, Kit got the rebounds, not me," the assistant coach said when asked to talk about his star pupil, center Kitwana Rhymer.
While Barbee was reluctant to discuss the game, others have no problem talking about him - and praise for Barbee has been abundant recently. His teaching, recruiting and rapport with the players all have improved the Minuteman program.
"We start off practices with individual work," UMass head coach Bruiser Flint said. "Tony has done a good job with our post players. Tony gets Kit in, works with him, watches tape with him and the kid is really starting to develop. He's good at teaching those guys."
Barbee overcame his modesty and said, "It's mental for Kit. He's working on his confidence, knowing he can do that stuff - rebounding and scoring in the post. It comes from repetition in practice with individual drills and he's carried it over to the games.
"His best days are ahead of him," Barbee continued. "He hadn't played that much basketball before he got here. He's improving every day and he likes to work. He has the instincts. We just have to bring it out of him. You can see he's becoming more comfortable and he's going to be pretty good."
From his sessions with Barbee, Rhymer has learned that rebounding is more than just desire.
"It's definitely a science. Coach Barbee has been working with me and showing me that the different angles that the ball comes off. He shows me the tapes. I came into this conference saying, I want to be like (Dennis) Rodman. I think I can be the best rebounder in this conference."
Even when he was UMass' third coach (he was a non-recruiting assistant from 1996-1998), Barbee helped the Minutemen big men improve.
"I thought Tony could really help us with our post play," Flint said. "He did a good job with Lari (Ketner) and did a great job actually with Ajmal (Basit). I knew he would benefit Kit, especially on the offensive end."
Barbee's recruiting efforts have paid dividends right away. Flint has praised Barbee's recruiting since the ex-Minuteman star rejoined the UMass staff. Those efforts have been highlighted by the signing of California high school star Jameel Pugh.
"The recruiting has been fantastic," Flint said. "He's relentless. He has the gusto to work hard. We got a kid from Sacramento who is a top 50 or top 60 kid. He's done a fantastic job and he's going to get good players here."
Barbee, who spent a year in Wyoming, credited that experience with aiding his recruiting skills.
"Being out there, where there is no recruiting base - you can't go to Boston or New York just down the road and go get a kid," Barbee said. "The whole country is your recruiting base. You have to go wherever anybody (is who) wants to come.
"When I was out there and I would say I was from UMass, kids would react," Barbee continued. "I just knew that we could establish a national base for recruiting instead of relying on the East Coast stuff. You establish who you want to recruit and you make sure you have enough guys on that list so you can get one of them. That's the key to recruiting. You can't limit yourself by staying in the East."
Some coaches don't enjoy recruiting, but that's not Barbee.
"I like it," he said. "You're traveling around watching basketball games and talking to kids about basketball and life. If you can't enjoy that, you need to get into a different line of work."
very time Tony Barbee has left the University of Massachusetts, he's found reason to return.
And the effect of the former UMass forward, who graduated in 1993 and still ranks fourth on the school's all-time men's basketball scoring list, is being felt in several areas — at least one of which seemed in need of a boost.
"I like recruiting," said Barbee, a UMass assistant coach who spent last season on the Wyoming staff. "I get to travel and watch basketball games. If you don't like that, you should probably be in another business."
Saturday's 49-41 UMass victory at Virginia Tech shed some attention on Barbee, mostly because of his individual work with center Kitwana Rhymer. Working with Barbee to smooth out his game, Rhymer — who had 15 rebounds Saturday — has blossomed into one of the Atlantic 10's best rebounders, and has also improved offensively.
But Barbee's impact is also being felt in recruiting, where the program has been seeking to reaffirm its prominence. He's already helped sign 6-foot-4 forward Jameel Pugh, a high school senior and a sensational leaper from Sacramento, Calif.
Pugh is a top 50 prospect — and evidence that the UMass recruiting picture, whose recent success has been the source of debate, is brightening.
"You can't limit yourself to the East," Barbee said. "Kids don't want to stay home. They want to go all over the place now — that's the trend."
Barbee has been all over the place, too, but he's always come back. After scoring 1,643 points at UMass, he played two pro seasons in Spain and France, then returned as Minutemen radio color man in 1995-96.
He served the next two years as a UMass assistant coach, then spent a year at Wyoming. But when UMass associate coach John Robic was named coach at Youngstown State, Minutemen assistant Geoff Arnold slid into Robic's No. 2 spot on the staff this season, and Barbee came back to fill the open spot.
Barbee is from Indianapolis, and until the Pugh signing, few UMass players had come from any farther west than he had. He thinks the Wyoming experience will help him alter that.
"Wyoming doesn't have a Boston or a New York nearby," he said. "The whole country has to be its recruiting base. But you'd mention UMass out there, and you'd see how well kids would react."
Recruiting is a tender issue at UMass. As recently as in the past week, prospects who went elsewhere were showcasing their skills.
On Wednesday, former junior-college forward Shon Coleman scored 26 points for Georgia in a loss to Kentucky. The next night, freshman guard Kevin Forney had 19 in Duquesne's 84-75 loss to UMass. Both had attracted interest from UMass.
Minutemen coach Bruiser Flint says the program's recruiting will stand the test of time.
"We've signed a top 50 or 60 prospect (Pugh) and we're involved with a lot of others," Flint said. "Our recruiting is beyond what people might think. We'll get good players — don't worry."
Signing Pugh, a standout from 3,000 miles away, spotlighted the qualities Barbee brings to UMass — a young, polished figure, a familiar face who still represented new blood.
As for his work with the low-post players, he is reluctant to take any credit for Rhymer's development, but both Flint and Rhymer credit Barbee's influence.
"I thought Tony could help us with our post play," Flint said. "He'd never admit it, but he could play like a big man when he was here."
"I was comfortable going down in the post at UMass," the 6-6 Barbee said. "And I was a center in high school."
How well he recruits, though, may ultimately measure Barbee's impact in this latest UMass assignment.
"I think the key is establishing who you want to recruit," he said. "You've got to have enough kids on your list to make sure you'll get at least one."